Writin’ in the rain

NASA image

NASA image

Silk’s post #18 — Okay, you really have to put the title to music to do this subject justice.

I’m wri-i-i-tin’ in the rain
Just wri-i-i-tin’ in the rain
What a glo-o-o-orious feelin’
I’m … (click heels twice here) … ha-a-a-appy again …

And so on. You can’t see the words without hearing the melody, can you? And you can’t hear the melody in your head without seeing Gene Kelly, fedora awash, splashing through puddles in a Hollywood downpour … tripping out on those unbelievable dancer’s feet of his … twirling himself around the lamppost, his face to the wet sky and his arms flung wide.

Now there’s a powerful image. One for history.

And why is this scene so infectious? Because no one, but no one, has ever managed to portray pure inner joy on the silver screen better than the squeaky-clean-but-oh-so-sexy Mr. Kelly in Singin’ in the Rainwhich is the reason this exuberant, if somewhat fluffy, movie has endured as one of the world’s best loved classics. There are lots of terrific, memorable scenes in the film, but its undying appeal is all about the dancin’-in-the-rain scene.

It’s a joy so big and bright, it laughs at rain.

Rain – the ultimate in dreary, depressing, debilitating, demotivating, creativity-destroying downers.

Oh yeah? Not according to Seattle author Timothy Egan and a few of his crazy writer friends. Mind you, Mr. Egan’s best known book, The Worst Hard Time, is about the Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties, so you can see all this Pacific Northwest rain hasn’t exactly turned him into the writing equivalent of Gene Kelly. But still …

In a January 10th op-ed piece for the New York Times, “The Longest Nights,” he decides to test an idea about the relationship between crappy wet weather and writing productivity on a few of his literary friends. Here’s his opening manifesto:

In early winter, when the heavy rains come to the Pacific Northwest and we settle under a blanket of sullen sky, something stirs in the creative soul. At the calendar’s gloaming, while the landscape is inert, and all is dark, sluggish, bleak and cold, writers and cooks and artists and tinkerers of all sorts are at their most productive.

At least, that’s my theory. As a lifelong resident of a latitude well to the north of Maine, I’ve come to the conclusion that creativity needs a season of despair.

Well, I’m with him on the weather description. And the lack of light. Very well observed. And I feel his pain. What this hasn’t resulted in, for me anyway, is the gush of creativity he mentions. I would be hard pressed to call this my “most productive” season. You might have already suspected this, since I have studiously avoided sharing a page count for my novel-in-progress, like all my show-off writing buddies.

Opinion among Mr. Egan’s colleagues was divided. One claimed that, rather than “being crippled by clinical depression, bending toward the light like a dying tomato plant,” he actually found that the murk of a winter day caused words to “pour out” of him – so much so that he had produced “enough excellent writing to fill a large tube sock.” What another writer found “more depressing than weeks of drizzle” was “unrelenting sunshine,” which apparently robbed her of the proper melancholy required to write.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, one bestselling Seattle author confessed that the best he can do is “put my fingers on the keyboard and hope that the muse can find me beneath Seattle’s heavy gray cloud covering.”

Now, let’s just take a look at the brightly coloured map of the Pacific Northwest at the top of the page. It does look cheerful, doesn’t it? I’d like you to notice, however, that the red-shaded area represents the zone which received between, say, 200 and 250 millimetres of rain during the first week of November in 2006. Yes, that was a wet one, wasn’t it? But things did, it must be said, dry out by around June. I happen to live just on the right edge of that big red blob hanging over Vancouver Island in the upper left portion of the image.

The cause of all this is something called the “Pineapple Express” – a sub-tropical jet stream that sucks up all the moisture out of Hawaii and delivers it right to our door every winter. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out a way to get actual pineapples to be delivered in the same manner, although that might be a bit messy.

So, back to this business of Writin’ in the Rain. I actually do have a plan to tie all this together. Really.

Here’s the thing: I need to get my writing mojo working properly again. Given that the annual Pineapple Express is likely to deliver Hollywood-style downpours for much of the next several months, I could take my cue from Mr. Egan’s scientific motivational research and try to channel my inner Gene Kelly.

Dance through it. Revel in it. Let the joy and the words flow like pineapple juice.

Yeah. That sounds good. Powerful stuff.

Or … I could follow the route of the Pineapple Express back from whence it came. To sunny Hawaii, where I never have to put on my gumboots to tromp out to the woodshed to fetch wood to feed the woodstove. Where spam is associated with tasty pupus, and the first Aloha Writer’s Conference is about to start. Where I can tap away on my laptop while the breeze wafts across the lanai and waves caress the sand in a gentle rhythm. Tap tap tappety tap.

Another mai tai, please, I’m running a little short on melancholy.

Well, if you were facing a deadline for your novel’s first draft in less than a month, with no actual possibility of writing, say, 70,000 words between now and then no matter where you plant your keyboard … what would you do?

Yeah, I thought so.

Aloha everyone! My next post will be from Maui.

9 thoughts on “Writin’ in the rain

  1. I don’t think there’s a direct relationship between depressing weather and writing. The intervening variable is where a particlar writer gets his/her inspiration from. You write as if you’re a sunny and pleasnat person, and, if I remember correctly, your genre is YA. You probably don’t reach into the shadows to connect with your muse in the way that Poe probably did, so gloomy weather brings you down without any compensatory inspiration. I write dark, or at least shadowy, stuff. Even when I’m being funny, my humor is generally barbed. So while days of rain might bring me down, “down” is where I’m likely to find my muse. I may not write copiously, but I’ll come up with, or refine, good ideas.

    • Dear Sofferciese, I fear you have never lived on the “Wet Coast”. In the Pacific Northwest, we go whole months without seeing the sun (November and January, to name the two most likely candidates). You should give it a try. I’d love to see what dark creatures you and your muse might stalk and capture during a winter on our Wet Coast. Me? You’ll find me in Hawaii or sunny Southern California.

  2. I love being called “sunny and pleasant” — thanks! I’m actually not writing YA, though. My genre is mystery-suspense with literary pretensions. I stop just shy of “thriller” with my gore quotient, but I try to make up for it with some darkly twisted characters who need badly to be spanked. I can’t seem to stop trying to be a little bit funny, too (as my friend Joe has pointed out), so that might count towards “sunny”.

    Despite my lament about productivity this fall/winter, I actually do like sitting at my writing desk, looking out into the forest behind the house, when the weather is gloomy. It does seem to engender a reflective mood and force one to contemplate the follies of humanity and the ironic cruelty of life in general. Or, alternatively, it sends me to the pantry for a brownie.

  3. Not because I’m bright & sunny (not even close!), but I do prefer the sunny, warm days. I’m not sure how weather links into productivity – what I’ve noticed is that I am great at revising, but filling up that blank screen, or page – frozen solid most of the time. What the sunny weather does do for me is get me out and walking, which is always good for my muse – she seems to find me when I’m out and getting exercise, burning up calories and enjoying my music, in other words, when I’m not facing a blank screen and trying to figure out just what is going on in the scene that taking place in the midst of one of London’s best pea-soupers, or even thinking about it. So . . . i supect each answer is as different as the writers answering it. But Hawaii? Oh, yes! Please sip a Mai Tai for me!

    • Mahalo Bev! I’ll write next from Aloha land (and am even planning to attend one day of the Aloha Writers Conference while I’m there).

  4. Silk, what have you done! I can’t get that darn jingle out of my head. Seriously, about the writing/weather connection, I fit into the camp who is most productive during filthy weather. Today, for example, I managed to write 15 pages, stopping only to push the button on the coffee machine, and hardly spending a moment to look outside the window. On the other hand, when it’s warm and lovely, I just can’t resist the siren call of the sun and blue sky. Can’t look at the keyboard. Can’t sit still. I do however think about writing, and wished I had a memory button to push and retrieve those wonderful ideas later when the weather changes and it’s keyboard time again.

    • I must say, I think part of the attraction of writing when the weather is horrible is that it’s guilt-free. When its sunny outside, I feel like I’m supposed to be outside doing something productive – like gardening, or healthy – like walking, or fun – like sailing. With our short summers, every sunny day feels like a gift, and its rude to look a gift horse in the mouth!

  5. So, I’ve got a dilemma. I’m with Silk on this one, because I definitely fit into the ‘rainy day writers’ camp. When it is dark and gloomy outside, what could be better than curling up with a latte and a good book? Writing a book of course! And, in my past life the more vile the weather, the higher my productivity. Except this year. This year, I’ve got a problem. With everything on the line as we race towards the finish, I find myself “trapped”, metaphorically speaking, in Pleasantville.
    Sunny Southern California. Admittedly a trap of my own design and making and a lovely one at that. A trap not likely to win me any sympathy from either our readers or my fellow 5writers, but a trap nevertheless. A trap filled with relentless days of sunshine from which I cannot escape. Today, I caught a break. Sure it’s still unremittingly sunny here, but today, we’re having a cold spell. The thermometer started out near freezing and by mid afternoon, barely cracked 60F (that’s 15C for all you celsius types). In Southern California, that counts as much as a rainy day. Stay tuned for my post tomorrow, to find out just how much I ended up getting done.

    • I await your next post with bated breath! I hope you make the deadline. Well, actually I’m torn about that. Misery loves company you know. Will I be the only one who doesn’t finish in time, I wonder? I still think we need to chat online about what I (or we, if anyone happens to join me in this boat) will do on Feb 5!

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